When Eliana Kuo and Lorenzo Albrighi were starting to build their circular fashion platform in March 2016, one reaction stuck with them. “An investor we were pitching to asked if we were talking about a T-shirt with a circle on it.” Evidently, the pair was ahead of the curve. The pre-pandemic fashion landscape followed a linear business model that looked like this: take, manufacture, distribute and waste. Taxing on both resources and emissions, it continues to worsen the state of landfills, water scarcity and the well-being of garment workers.
So how exactly do Kuo and Albrighi hope to challenge the status quo with Lablaco? Taking cues from the concept of a circular economy, circular fashion aims for an item to be circulated and reinstated to the ecosphere responsibly. Lablaco takes this one step further through digitisation—connecting products at all levels of the value chain, from retail to post-consumption. In 2019, the pair launched the Circular Fashion Summit (CFS) to encourage industry leaders, innovators and designers to come together to share ideas and solutions pertaining to circular fashion.
This past month’s edition, themed Redesigning Society, featured 10 CFS Impact Design Honorees and Innovators and ran from 9 to 19 December at the Grand Palais Éphémère. The four-day event consisted of industry leaders running panels and workshops on design, technology and sustainability. Vogue Singapore, in particular, was one of CFS’ official media partners. Apart from hosting an innovation workshop titled ‘Fashion’s New Frontier: The Metaverse’, the partnership also saw the implementation of the Vogue Singapore gallery as well as a collaboration with designer Angel Chen and digital fashion store, DressX.
Other speakers included RTFKT, Aura Blockchain and The Fabricant who discussed topics such as inclusivity by design and the metaverse. They were also joined by 10 CFS Impact Design Honorees and Innovators. Described as “pioneers of the circular fashion transformation”, CFS’ Impact Design Honorees and Innovators have been recognised for creating change in line with Lablaco’s values through art, design and innovation. This year’s line-up included knitwear brand PH5, streetwear brand Spencer Badu, the Institute of Digital Fashion and Nigerian label Orange Culture; all businesses that align with Lablaco’s mission of innovation, sustainability and scalability.
As they strive to digitise the industry in its entirety, Kuo and Albrighi—joined by some of CFS’s Impact Design Honorees and Innovators—take us through the changing fashion ecosystem, the driving force behind Lablaco and what we can expect next.
“Circular fashion aims for an item to be circulated and reinstated to the ecosphere responsibly. Lablaco takes this one step further through digitisation”
How would you define circular fashion today?
Eliana Kuo (EK) and Lorenzo Albrighi (LA): The key to enabling circular fashion is digitisation. Without connecting products to the Internet of Things, we can never scale circularity nor measure its impact. What we mean by a digitised and connected circular fashion industry is to, first of all, connect the products through individual links. If you buy a Prada T-shirt, you will be able to interact and learn about the product’s journey by scanning its QR code. The uniqueness of Lablaco is to instantly activate end-to-end circularity and transparency through the digitisation of the product powered by blockchain, with the ability to wear the items in multi-realities through digital twins.
What was the motivation behind setting up Lablaco?
EK and LA: It was about the needs of the brands, creatives and environment. Fashion is probably the only industry that has not been digitised yet. We have seen industries such as hospitality or transport that have enabled monetisation through multiple uses of one product and that have maximised the use of resources through valuable data. In many cases, it avoids the need to produce and ship physical products. We aim to build the most efficient and easy-to-use system that bridges customers, brands and retailers, enabling digitisation of products with multiple circular business models, which consequently supports fashion’s shift to a sustainable circular economy.
“Sustainability is such a big topic and small designers simply do not have enough resources”
Please tell us more about the Circular Fashion Summit (CFS).
EK and LA: Last year, we created the first virtual reality summit in fashion history as part of the official Paris Fashion Week agenda. This year, we digitised the Grand Palais Éphémère. We also gathered leaders of change from design, technology and sustainability from all over the world. We partnered 10 designers and 10 innovators in the fashion, technology and sustainability space.
Can you tell us how this partnership came about?
EK and LA: We used to receive questions from designers on how they could make more sustainable collections. Sustainability is such a big topic and small designers simply do not have enough resources. Each year at CFS, we support 10 independent designers and spotlight 10 innovators. They enter a 12-month programme, where we create opportunities between the designers as well as the innovators.
This question is for the designers. A key component of CFS this year, and on a whole, is “evolving the role of fashion as a force for good”. As individual businesses, how do you feel that you can continue to advocate for this?
Leanne Elliott-Young (IoDF): For us at IoDF, diversity and inclusion aren’t just a reaction to the times, they’re the backbone of our thinking, our community and our company structure. IoDF aims to restructure the long overdue traditions the fashion industry perpetuates from inclusivity to sustainable practice.
Spencer Badu: It’s about playing our part in contributing to a better world. Reducing waste and lowering our impact starts with embracing innovation and breaking traditional formulas of making and presenting our work.
Adebayo Oke-Lawal (Orange Culture): As a business, one thing that’s important to me is community development. That is why as a brand, we look for ways to develop within the community, from our local supply chain and local employment to our mentorship programme.
Wei Lin (PH5): By continuing to do what we do and to lead by example on how to balance design and sustainability. This is not an either-or relationship; we can have both well-designed products and consciously sourced products, all in one.
What’s next for Lablaco?
EK and LA: We are on a mission to enable circular fashion by providing brands and retailers with the tools to make it happen. The industry needs to digitise and connect the 100 billion products manufactured each year and to use the data to optimise and manage a new circular economy for the fashion industry at scale.
Photographer Chou Mo
Stylists Lyla Cheng and Saem Xu
Hair and makeup Fiona Li
Producer Lyla Cheng
Art Director Saem Xu
3D Art Foggy Incense
3D Digital Fashion Institute of Digital Fashion